Thursday, July 15, 2010

Napoloen's Surrender on the Bellerophon

On July 15, 1815, the Napoleonic Wars officially ended, when Napoleon Buonaparte surrendered to Captain Frederick Maitland on board the HMS Bellerophon.  The Bellerophon was decommissioned two months later. 

Napoleon ended up on the Bellerophon as he was trying to escape to America following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815).  Maitland was stationed off the coast of Rochefort when he received word that Napoleon may attempt to flee.  Napoleon realized he was trapped, and opened negotiations with Maitland.

Walter Scott discusses this episode in history in his "The Life of Napoleon Buonaparte":

...Buonaparte was put to considerable inconvenience by the shrewdness and tenacity of the noble negotiator, and had not forgotten them when, in 1815, he found himself on board the Bellerophon, commanded by a relation of the noble earl [Maitland was related to Lord Lauderdale]. It is indeed probable, that, had Mr. Fox lived, the negotiation might have been renewed. That eminent statesman, then in his last illness, was desirous to accomplish two great objects—peace with France, and the abolition of the slave trade. But although Buonaparte's deference for Fox might have induced him to concede some of the points in dispute, and although the British statesman's desire of peace might have made him relinquish others on the part of England, still, while the two nations retained their relative power and positions, the deep jealousy and mutual animosity which subsisted between them would probably have rendered any peace which could have been made a mere suspension of arms—a hollow and insincere truce, which was almost certain to give way on the slightest occasion. Britain could never have seen with indifference Buonaparte making one stride after another towards universal dominion; and Buonaparte could not long have borne with patience the neighbourhood of our free institutions and our free press; the former of which must have perpetually reminded the French of the liberty they had lost, while the latter was sure to make the Emperor, his government, and his policy, the daily subject of the most severe and unsparing criticism. Even the war with Prussia and Russia, in which Napoleon was soon afterwards engaged, would, in all probability, have renewed the hostilities between France and England, supposing them to have been terminated for a season by a temporary peace. Yet Napoleon always spoke of the death of Fox as one of the fatalities on which his great designs were shipwrecked ;3 which makes it the more surprising that he did not resume intercourse with the administration formed under his auspices, and who might have been supposed to be animated by his principles even after his decease. That he did not do so may be fairly received in evidence to show, that peace, unless on terms which he could dictate, was not desired by him...

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